NEW YORK Last year Marriott Hotels staged an eight-city global tour in which the public could climb into a futuristic-looking virtual reality booth and “get teleported” to different destinations. The booths, which used Oculus Rift technology and had 4-D effects like mist and wind, were installed in very public locations, like New York’s Times Square.
The next chapter of the hotel company’s virtual reality exploration is a much more personalized affair. Guests staying at two Marriott properties can order personal virtual reality kits as part of the new “VRoom Service” promotion, part of Marriott’s ongoing “Travel Brilliantly” campaign.
The promotion debuted at the New York Marriott Marquis on September 10 and at the London Marriott Park Lane on Monday. Guests can order the kit through a Marriott app or on a dedicated phone line that’s printed on their room keycards. Staff deliver sleek-looking white metal cases that contain Samsung Gear virtual reality headset and headphones, along with instructions on how to use them.
The content features three two-minute videos set in Chile, China, and Rwanda. They star real people—business travelers who narrate their stories while viewers take in 360-degree views of their surroundings.
“Virtual reality has been seen primarily as something for gaming and entertainment, so seeing it in the context of travel is different,” says Michael Dail, vice president of global brand marketing at Marriott Hotels. The company worked with Relevent on the production and Framestore on the video content.
Part of the appeal of using cutting-edge virtual reality is to appeal to millennials who seek out authentic experiences and storytelling, Dail says. In one video, Alexis Miesen, founder of New York-based Blue Marble ice cream, tells the story of helping to found an ice cream shop in Rwanda operated by a local women’s collective. Her interview is set on a terrace next to the shop, called Inzozi Nziza, which translates to “sweet dreams.” The video opens with an image of local residents, with Miesen seated behind the viewer. Hearing Miesen’s voice but not seeing her prompts viewers to turn around, a technique that encourages them to explore the capabilities of virtual reality experience.
“It wasn’t this overt advertisement for Marriott. It was more conceptual,” Miesen says of participating in the project. “It was about telling that story and inspiring travel overall.”
In total, 400 virtual reality kits are available to Marriott guests at one time. Guests can keep the set for 24 hours and play the videos on demand.
The general public also will have a chance to experience the technology. Marriott will have a kit available at a lobby-level kiosk, and anyone with their own Samsung Gear virtual reality headset can download the postcards on their own.
“I think people will be impressed at how portable and condensed the technology is,” Dail says. “It’s streamlined and intuitive and easy for guests to use.”
While the initial experience is limited to two cities, Dail says Marriott is considering expanding it to more cities. And beyond the promotion, the company is brainstorming how to incorporate virtual reality applications to its current hotel operations.
“As the technology advances, it will be interesting to see how we bring this into the meeting space,” he says. “With virtual reality, obviously it’s scaling pretty fast.”